The tank shortage situationMarch 16, 2010 at 5:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments
While the recent release of the LFD system may have renewed discussion about the tank shortage (see here, here and here, among others), it is by no means a new phenomenon (see February 2007, August 2007, March 2008 and May 2008 references to such). There has been a shortage of tanks at least since the release of The Burning Crusade in early 2007 and possibly before. Since then, several attempts have been made to rectify this situation. In this post, I examine some of the attempted and proposed solutions and discuss their actual or potential efficacy.
Tanking has changed a lot since the days of Vanilla WoW. Protection warriors no longer have a monopoly on good tanking following changes to protection paladins and feral druids as well as the addition of three different specs of Death Knight tanks. To these changes it appears that others will be added, such as making arms warriors viable tanks in 5 person dungeons. It seems likely that 9 of the 30 specs will be viable for tanking in heroics. But will these and other changes actually increase the number of tanks entering LFD?
Let’s look at some of the previous changes made to tanking…
Make paladins and bears viable
I began playing at the very tail end of Vanilla, so it is hard for me to say if the changes in Burning Crusade to paladins and bears made an appreciable change to the number of tanks available. It is my understanding, though, that both classes went from barely capable to reasonably strong under most circumstances. If I assume that this helped to increase the number of tanks available, I have to wonder just how bad the tank situation was in Vanilla given that there was a tank shortage through much of BC (see earlier links).
Making two existing classes viable as tanks did not, as far as I can tell, reduce the tank shortage. Perhaps somebody that was more active at this time can correct this impression.
Introduce Death Knights
Following the tank shortage of BC, Blizzard introduced Death Knights, a new class of tanks with three (!) talent trees that can tank. A lot of players created Death Knights and, given the ease of leveling a DK from 55 as compared to a warrior/paladin/bear from 1, it would seem the natural class for experienced players to roll as a new tank. Judging from the tanks I see on my server as well as the ones to which I am assigned in LFD, however, few of these new DKs are in LFD for heroics. To be fair, though, it is my understanding that the tank shortage in the level 55-65 range is much less severe thanks to the influence of new DKs.
Despite being a new class with a lot of advantages (faster leveling, new starting zone, designation as a ‘hero’ class, etc.), it does not appear that DKs have made a significant impact on tank populations (most tanks are warriors). Anecdotally, it appears that the great majority of DKs became dps, potentially exacerbating the problem of supply imbalance between tanks and dps.
Change bear gear requirements
Prior to Wrath, bears needed +defense on their gear as all tanks did. This created some difficulties as most leather was not itemized well for meeting the goal of crit immunity. Furthermore, due to the mechanics of block in BC, bears were forced to regularly eat crushing blows whereas other tanks did not. With the release of Wrath, however, this changed: bears received crit immunity from talents and crushing blows were no longer a concern against max-level content.
While bear gearing was much simplified, I don’t know that bears are any more popular than in the past. I recall reading a post from one of the developers stating this but, sadly, I cannot find it. In any case bears, like DKs, do not make up a large portion of the tank population. In other words, simplifying bear does not appear to have an effect on the tank shortage.
Prior to Wrath, everybody was limited to a single spec at a time. Now, however, it is possible for tank-capable classes to have both a tank spec and another for other sorts of content. One hoped-for consequence of the introduction of dual specs was that more tanking classes would have a tank spec. Players that wanted primarily to dps/heal/pvp would be able to fill in as a tank when needed. Furthermore, tanks that switched spec for the weekend to pvp would no longer be unavailable due to having the wrong spec at the time. This was a particular concern during BC for Warriors.
It’s hard to say for certain, but my impression is that dual spec has been a mixed success. While it does not appear to have solved the tank shortage, it may have increased the number of players with a tank spec (as an example, 72% of warriors have at least one prot spec while neither arms nor fury exceed 50%).
Now let us examine some of the proposed changes for Cataclysm…
Remove defense rating
The intention here appears to be make it easier to gear for tanking. Though I am unconvinced, the consensus at Blizzard seems to be that gear is the reason for the tank shortage (see here, here, here and here). Reaching crit immunity will no longer be such a large and important hurdle for new tanks. In other words, removing defense rating may lower the barrier to entry for new tanks. Whether new tanks will decide to remain so, however, will depend on other factors.
As we have seen with dual spec, it is not difficult to make more tanks. Making more tanks enter LFD, however, is an entirely different matter!
Make additional specs viable as tanks
I have commented previously on making arms warriors capable of tanking, so I will try not to repeat myself too much here. As with the introduction of DKs, making more classes or specs capable of tanking does not address the matter of making players capable of or interested in tanking. Chances are, a warrior that didn’t want to tank as prot is not going to want to tank as arms either!
As is probably obvious, I am not hopeful that these new proposals will do much to solve the tank shortage. Perhaps that is not the problem Blizzard aims to solve, but otherwise I find it difficult to understand the reasons behind making Arms a viable tanking spec. It appears that Blizzard is focusing on reducing or eliminating barriers to entry as solutions to the tanking problem. While this has some promise, I think that such an approach overlooks ways of keeping tanks as tanks.
I think there are a number of reasons why tanking is often an undesirable role to players. Here are a few I came across in putting together this post:
- It can be difficult to get raid spots (see here and here). In other words, tanking can be a dead end for players interested in raiding.
- It can be difficult to level as a tank. In general, the added survivability is not needed for leveling while the reduced offensive capability can feel like an impediment. I have heard, though, that this is much less the case now, at least for prot warriors.
- Repair bills are high. The disparity between tank and, say, healer repair bills appears to have greatly diminished since Burning Crusade, though it still exists.
- Tanking is a lot of work. In the average heroic run, I can almost fall asleep when I heal or dps. I have mentioned before that the tank job does not get easier (and, where warrior rage generation is concerned, can get harder) as you gear up because the challenge of holding aggro never gets easier.
- At least for warriors tanks, staying active on heroic strike/cleave spam is tough on the hands. I’ve seen this firsthand; I usually need to take a break after tanking 3 heroics, but I can heal or dps with no adverse effects.
- Tanks frequently encounter hypercritical buttheads in the LFD system. This is probably a more significant barrier to entry than gear ever was. Sadly, tanks have no tools for dealing with this other than leaving the group.
- Low benefits relative to responsibilities and headaches. The only advantage to tanking in LFD is that the queue time is faster.
Most of these issues are related to I believe that any solution to the tanking situation needs to address the issues that make tanking desirable to players. To put this another way: players tank, not classes or specs.
However you choose to think about the situation, I think Blizzard and the player population in general have an interest in solving the tank shortage. Some sort of incentive is needed. I would like to say that ‘fun’ should be the incentive, but I think that a lot of what can make tanking un-fun is the other people in the group. When Blizzard wanted more players to participate in arenas, they increased the loot rewards. It worked – players followed the loot. If you get what you reward, it’s worth asking: what rewards are there for tanking?
I’m hoping to make a post in the next week about other ways the tank shortage might be reduced.
(Edits: fixed a few links, clarified a few sentences.)